Sunday, April 25, 2010

Powerful Stuff- Stay Outta The Way: On Transformation

2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

I've been a Christian for most of my life.  Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for that fact.  But one thing is for certain, having been exposed to Jesus for so many years of my life, it's easy to become numb to the power that actually exists in Him.

For that very reason, I really enjoy spending time with people who haven't been exposed to Christian culture their entire lives.  It's a needed reminder to me of the life changing transformational power that is only in Christ.  I was spending time with a good friend of mine this weekend who has not been saved her whole life.  Hearing her share of God's transformational work in her life was inspiring.  From old to new.  A being that is now totally unrecognizable from that which it was in a matter of years.    

I have another friend who inspires me.  Almost losing his life to years of drugs and alcohol, completely immersed in addictions and depression- God pulled him out of his mire and called him into a new life.  Just like that.  In an instant.  From old to new.  If you met him now you would never believe the life from which he came. 

God's transformational power....sometimes over a period of years....sometimes instantantaneously.  It never get's old to me.   

It's like the people of Ninevah.  So immersed in their sin, but with one calling of the grace and mercy of God they shed their old selves for the new.  That's the miracle working power of our God.  It's so incredible that just witnessing these transformations is enough to make a person believe. 

If nothing else, it's definitely challenged me.  Because I am so apt to forget the incredible power of Christ, I tend to take on more work than belongs to me.  I am referring to the effort that I put into transforming my own life, but more importantly- I am referring to the effort I put into trying to "help" transform the lives of others. 

Let me give you an example.  I brought a friend to church recently.  I was hoping and praying that everything would go well, from the people greeting her at the door, to the music that was sung, to the "perfect sermon" that the pastor chose to preach that morning.  Everything from where we sat to what we said was fueled by the desire for her to come to know Jesus. 

Ultimately, the desire is a good desire.  My heart breaks for her and I long to see her transformed by the powerful work of Jesus.  I long to see her reach the destiny that God has designed for her.  But I get in the habit of forgetting that Christ's power in her life has nothing to do with me...and everything to do with Christ. 

God's spirit is so powerful.  It cannot be manipulated, fabricated, or created outside of anything but Him.  If you find yourself relying more on your work and the work of those around you than Him than something has gone terribly wrong.  Lay it down.  You are carrying a burden that does not belong to you.  And in the end, when left up to Christ the results are 100% miraculous.  They cannot be ignored or denied.  You will witness the beauty of a new creation where beauty may have seemed an impossibility.  The old had gone the new has come.  That is the power of Christ.  So, to anyone who tends to be like me: do us all a favor....stay out of the way. :)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"Facebooking" to the Lord: An audience of One...

Colossians 3:17
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I was cruisin' through Facebook the other night, reading off random status updates to my husband.  One status in particular caught my eye as the friend was describing their "perfect" day (If you're wondering if it was you....relax, it was the other friend).  My husband John, after hearing the detailed description of perfection commented, "Wow, people tend to embellish their lives on Facebook."

If you look up the word embellish, this is what you'll find:  to heighten the attractiveness of by adding decorative or fanciful detail; to enhance.  Sure sounds like the typical Facebook status to me.  I'm guilty of this myself. might be thinking, "what is the problem?"

The answer comes down to one word: motives.  In my opinion, there is a large and dangerous risk looming when we seek to embellish our lives to others for the glory of ourselves.  Don't get me wrong, I think it's a beautiful thing when a person can enjoy the details of their life- the beautiful sunshine, the romantic walk with your spouse, the fun day at the playground with your family, the taste of fresh strawberries in the summertime.  These are all beautiful details that God has given to us, and we should be free to enjoy every single aspect of these details. 

Again, the problem is not in enjoying the details- the problem is when we elaborate the details for the sheer purpose of adding value to our life through the praises of man...when we seek glory from man, rather than seeking to glorify God. 

As we read in Colossians, we are commanded to do everything in our life with the purpose and privileged of enhancing the name of our Lord.  We are called to "embellish" His name....which is easier said than done.  To put it in the words of a song, we are called to live to "An audience of One".   

So how does a Facebook status look any different bringing glory to God or glory to ourselves?  The answer: it doesn't.  It's simply a matter of our hearts.  It's merely taking an honest look into the motives of our sinful man, deliberately keeping those motives aligned with our Lord.  It's seeking to pursue our value from a Higher source, and enjoy the details of our lives because God has given them to us- not because we want the spotlight. 

It's not an easy task, but it applies in everything from our Facebook status' to our acts of kindness to our church attendance.  We have got to continually seek to offer these good things to our Lord, asking Him to keep us humble and keep our motives in check.

So whatever you do this week, in word, or deed, or Facebook it all to the name of our Lord.  To an audience of One.  Amen. 

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Ridiculous Amount of Patience: Waiting on God

Numbers 9: 19-22
When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the LORD's order and did not set out. Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the LORD's command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. 

Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out.

I almost have to laugh when I read this passage.  Let me explain.  Here they are, millions of men, women and children journeying on foot to an unknown land.  They had just escaped the slavery of Egypt, and were on their way to the "promised land".  There was something fantastic coming up ahead...God had promised it to those who followed Him.

You see, I laugh because the process of getting to this land must have taken a ridiculous amount of patience, and I myself am hardly a fan of the word.  I like to be efficient.  I want things to be done in time.  I don't like to "sit around and wait".  There is no time for wasting, and there is definitely no time to delay.  Frankly, there is really no time for patience at all....the entire concept just takes way too long. 

The strange thing is, the part I find most challenging about this passage is not just about's about the unknown.  You see, had God given them a "set time" to wait around- say....2 days at a least that would have given them time to plan out their patience, time to figure out what to do with their hours, time to compile a list of things to do, places to see.  But He didn't.  The waiting was completely unknown to them. 

It could have been days...months...or even years.

I guess I never comprehended the gravity of such a thing.  Imagine waiting around for something...something you expected to happen in a couple of hours or at the most, a couple of days.  Imagine having to wait for a year...maybe even two.

But even more than the wait, imagine being at a place of utter obedience.  A place in life that is so completely reliant on God that you don't even bat an eye at the wait...because you trust Him.  Imagine having the amount of patience that sets aside your own agendas and plans...your own time-frame, in exchange for the greatest gift of all:  God's perfect will.

In my opinion, we could all use a good dose of ridiculous patience.  We've all waited on God to do things our way, trying to get through the waiting, as if it were a means to an end.  But imagine the waiting was the end.  Imagine the purpose of the delay was simply that- to take our focus off the end result and exchange it for a focus on Him.  To take our vision off the destination and allow our eyes to rest only on the Guide.  I believe that may just be the purpose of waiting...the purpose of developing patience.  

When I read this passage, that's what I see.  The Israelites were forced to exchange their focus from the preoccupation of the destination to the preoccupation with the Guide.  Everyday, it was the Cloud that guided them- and it was the Cloud of God's Spirit that ultimately won their attention...minute by minute, hour by hour.  Their eyes were fixed on Him. 

I want to see the periods of waiting in my life as more than simply time to kill.  I want to learn to see patience as the path that takes my focus on the natural and allows it to rest on the supernatural.  I want to allow God to use my time of waiting as a season to fix my eyes thoroughly on Him rather than simply getting "through".  I want God to grant me a ridiculous patience that is ultimately more concerned with the Guide than the destination.

Lord, grant us true patience as we rest in your perfect will.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Sticks and Stones Can Break My Bones...But Words Will Break My Heart: The Power of Words

Ephesians 4:29
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
I was reading through this passage the other night.  Funny thing is, in college, my roommate Melissa and I memorized chapter 4 and 5 of Ephesians as part of our accountability time.  We would rehearse these chapters again and again.  I probably quoted this verse over 50 times that year.

I don't know about you, but I must admit- I have totally missed the mark on this one.  I consider myself a nice person, but one thing is for sure- I am not KNOWN for my encouragement.  But you know, I know people who are.  I have a cousin named Maggie who is one of the most encouraging people I know.  Every time I finish talking to her, I feel like a superstar because of the encouragement she speaks into my life.  Whenever I hang up the phone, I feel built up, nourished, and empowered.  Paul understood the importance of these type of interactions among believers as he wrote this detailed message to the church of Ephesus. 

Do not let any unwholesome talk come of out your mouths.  Let's stop and take a look at the first part of this verse.  Basically, Paul is asking us to censor every word that comes out of our mouth.  Nothing is to be said that is harmful, critical, rude, selfish, degrading or mean.  Nothing.  Just take some time to consider some of the words that you have spoken in the last 24 hours to your friends, your neighbors, your spouses, your children.  What words have you allowed your lips to utter?

Then, as if it weren't enough just to filter what we say- we are to go out of our way to speak nothing else but words that will build up the people around us.  For each believer, it's not enough to simply "not tear down".  We have to go out of our way to speak words that will bring nourishment and healing to the people in our lives.  This is a hard task, especially for men and women who are looking for encouragement themselves.  Especially for broken people who could use some words of refreshment in their own lives.  In a sense, we are all broken people in need of healing words.  

But the beauty of our Lord is that He never gives us a command that He will not enable us to fulfill.  According to Proverbs 11:25   promises us that when you take the time to refresh those around you, God will bring you the refreshment that you also so desperately need.  You can count on that. 

Thirdly, in taking a look at this challenging verse we come to the last facet of our interactions with others: but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  

In my opinion, this is the hardest part.  In order to speak helpful words into the lives of the people around us, words that will build them up according to their needs- we must KNOW their needs.  We must develop an acute awareness of the deep seated needs of the people around us.  We must take the time to put ourselves on the back burner, and allow the needs of others to make their way forward. 

This takes a deliberate sensitivity.  This takes opening ourselves up to others in a way that goes beyond the superficial and into the realms of the supernatural.  This takes silencing the noise of our own selfish needs for just one moment in an attempt to identify the true needs of those around us:  Needs for love and affirmation, needs for value and self-worth, needs for encouragement and affection, needs for acknowledgment and recognition. 

May we be a people who are KNOWN by our words...words that build up, encourage, and empower the hearts of those around us. Amen.    

Monday, April 5, 2010

Don't Be Such A Sissy; Sharing the gospel with Boldness

Romans 1:16
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes...

As we were walking into our apartment yesterday evening carrying our luggage from the weekend- we were greeted by our neighbors (the neighbors that blast their music starting at 8am, and always seem to have friends over), holding the door open for us as we entered our apartment complex.  Two young men, holding their cigarettes, taking a smoke break.  They asked us how our weekend was, and after a couple more words of small talk we said goodbye and went inside. 

But you know, I couldn't seem to get those young boys off my mind.  I wondered about them that evening...what did they do for a living?  Where they students?  Where they Christians?  Did they ever hear about Jesus and His love for them?

What I couldn't seem to get off my mind was that I let an opportunity to invest in someone's life completely pass.  They were so kind and polite to us...they were the ones who struck up a conversation....and for some reason, I was so preoccupied with my own life that I failed to live my life for others.  Ironically, that's the very thing Jesus calls us to do every day.
You know,  I've been thinking about the concept of silence in the body of believers.  I've realized that our silence as Christians can be chalked up to a couple things.  Sometimes we are self absorbed and distracted, sometimes we lack confidence, but sometimes....we're straight up ashamed.  Embarrassed.  Afraid.  We don't want to start the conversation out of fear of what others will think or what they may say.  We're such sissy's sometimes. 

It's so much easier to start up a conversation about the Lord at my Saturday morning ministry...where that's my "ministry"....but what about my neighbors? My coworkers?  My family?  My friends?  For some reason, it's easy to start up a chat about the game, the weather, even politics....but sharing the gospel...that kind of sharing strikes a whole new cord.

I've been practicing boldness in my life lately.  I've been practicing being still, and simply listening to the Spirit's leading in my life.  Once God's Spirit led me to pay for an old man in front of me in line at Walmart, another time It led me to confront a lady about her past and God's presence in her life even through her pain....but more recently, It's led me to talk to a young woman I met about Jesus- and invite her to church. 

She didn't say much and we parted ways.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in my regular spot at church- and in walks the young woman, an anxious smile on her face- stepping into church for the first time in her life.  What a moment.  I was ecstatic and ashamed.  Ecstatic because she was there....ashamed because I didn't even consider that she might actually come.  We forget the power of the gospel.  That young woman has given her life to the Lord and has attended church ever since.  I am watching God powerfully at work in her life.  It's truly amazing. 

The gospel, which is the power of God to bring salvation to everyone who believes...there is power there....power that is far beyond us....power that we forget to tap into because of our own human frailty.

I want to do something for the boys downstairs.  I don't know what, yet....but I know I want to do something.  Maybe bake them a plate of cookies....maybe strike up a conversation and invite them to church...I have a couple ideas.

But one thing for sure, I want to take pride in the gospel.  I want to believe more and more in the power that is at work beyond my own humanity.  I want to be in tune to God's spirit, and take the opportunities He gives me to proclaim His gospel with boldness and confidence.  I want to have 100% trust that there is power in the words of God's truth....power that will touch lives, power that will move hearts, power that will bring salvation.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

On Easter: I'll take the Power and pass on the Suffering

Philippians 3:10-12
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

With Easter Sunday just around the corner, this verse seems fitting to meditate on.  There is so much that can be said of Easter, of the holiday that symbolizes the death of Christ culminating in victory over sin, over pain, over death.  There is so much to be said of the Love that was so freely given to save a people who were so undeserving.  There is so much to be said of a God who chose to give up His power and to humble himself, taking on the form of a man in order to bring salvation.

There is so much to be said of such a glorious display of affection...but more-so, there is so much to be learned. 

Paul puts it so well as he reflects on the beautiful and terrible death of our Lord and savior when he says: I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His suffering. 

You see, for each one of us....simply reflecting on this glorious display of affection means nothing for the individual soul until one is willing to pursue it.  Until one is willing to accept it.  Until one is willing to allow it to change their lives. 

For those reading this who do not have a relationship with Christ this means one thing: turning to Christ, acknowledging your sinful state, accepting that He so lovingly gave His life to save yours, and pursuing a relationship with him. 

But what about us who already believe?  How can this glorious display of affection continue to change and mold us even after the point of salvation?  How can we get past the point of complacency and being so accustomed to this blessed day that it no longer moves us, no longer challenges us, no longer transforms us?  According to Paul, knowledge brings our salvation from this detrimental apathy.

From the day of  his salvation, Paul spent every moment of his life in pursuit of this one thing: knowledge of Christ.  He wanted to know Christ in every aspect.  He wanted to understand Him in his most powerful moments and in the depths of His suffering.  He understood that true intimacy involved such depths of understanding.  Becoming like the One he loved in every way. He realized that the more he identified with Christ, the greater his appreciation for His sacrifice would be. 

For so many of us, that is an easy thing to say when we are talking in sharing in the power of Christ.  But what about in His suffering?  Do we long to know Christ, even in His suffering?  Do we long to take on a glimpse of the pain of Calvary?  Do we cherish opportunities to humble ourselves as an act of love to those around us?  Do we take the chance to get on our knees and wash the feet of those who have the capacity to betray us?  Do we really allow the pain in our lives to shape us into the face of Christ? 

Can we identify with His broken heart, in pieces for the lost souls surrounding Him?  Can we say in the midst of our betrayal that we long for the Father to forgive our betrayers?  Can we shed tears of anguish for the unity we long to have with our Father? 

Christians, do we long to know Christ in the fellowship of His suffering?

This Easter Sunday, we have a blessed opportunity to gaze upon the sacrifice and victory of our Lord.  We have the opportunity to identify with Him, giving ourselves over to the same power that conquered the grave to be at work in our lives.  We have the opportunity, also, to connect with Him on an even greater join with Him in His suffering.  To allow the glimpse of suffering we have felt or may be feeling this very moment to be yet one more thing that draws us into greater intimacy with our Lord. 

May we take the invitation as we gaze upon the cross and look upon the empty tomb, to share with Him in the power of His resurrection, and have the courage to take part with Him in the fellowship of His suffering.